Political Literary Criticism: 1903-2003

Some brief excerpts:

(1903) Frank Norris, The Responsibilities of the Novelist: “[The novel] may be a great force, that works together with the pulpit and the universities for the good of the people, fearlessly proving that power is abused, that the strong grind the faces of the weak, that an evil tree is still growing in the midst of the garden, that undoing follows hard upon unrighteousness, that the course of Empire is not yet finished, and that the races of men have yet to work out their destiny in those great and terrible movements that crush and grind and rend asunder the pillars of the houses of the nations.”

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Iraq War Novels and Iraq Conquest Novels – Where They Are and Are Not

“Where’s the first wave of Iraq War fiction?” – asked at Paper Cuts: A Blog About Books, at the New York Times

There are number of good comments there on a variety of matters, though some that are wanting. In answer to that central question, the first waves of Iraq War fiction are in the movies, on TV, in plays and novels and short stories… While there is not nearly as much as one might hope to see, it hasn’t been too difficult to compile a list of dozens of such works, plus works on closely connected US militancy in the “Middle East,” Afghanistan in particular: https://apragmaticpolicy.wordpress.com/2007/11/05/iraq-war-fiction-3/

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Rigoberto González interviews Roger Sedarat

A discussion of Roger Sedarat’s Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic – poems. Sedarat:

The two respective governments of Iran and America certainly tend to speak and act in terms of rigid dichotomies. You know…like President George W. Bush’s infamous warning to nations of the world that “You’re either for us or against us.” On the whole, the speaker in this book is positioned like the majority of Iranians who love their country yet resent its leadership (I think a lot of Americans have felt the same way). …

As for the American side of the room, the book obviously is for them too. I want them to experience the kind of disorientation—through humor, form, and disparate subject matter (popular culture juxtaposed with ancient tradition, western paired with eastern sensibility, etc.)—that makes Iran more of a complex country than they see represented in the media. More than anything, I want to challenge the Orientalist gaze fixated on the veil (in this case the Iranian chador). I tried to do this in the book by setting up then violating expectations. Also, as grave as the situation appears in the Middle East, I want my American audience to understand that Iranians especially have a tremendous sense of humor, as well as deep sense of the poetic tradition.

Sociology, Art, Health – Susan Bell

 “Talking Bodies“:

“Works of art can anchor social movements,” says Bell, Bowdoin’s A. Myrick Freeman Professor of Social Sciences. “Think of the AIDS quilt, or the Clothesline Project that is used to bring attention to issues of sexual assault and domestic violence against women. Images can be a powerful way to signal, engage, shock. People respond viscerally. It opens up a conversation.”

In a surprising twist on her discipline, Bell has turned to analyses of works of art to guide her in her research. In recent publications in journals including Health, Sociology of Health and Illness, and Qualitative Research in Psychology, Bell has made a case for incorporating the analysis of visual narratives into sociological work as documents and barometers of human experience.

Ishmael Reed Interviewed by Wajahat Ali

 via Counterpunch:

ALI: It’s amazing how all the best selling Urban Ghetto writers – they’re all White.

REED: Right. “The Lords of Urban Fiction.” What I can’t understand why Blacks can’t achieve royal status when it comes to forms that they have largely created? I mean there’s a White King of Rock n’ Roll, there’s a White King of Jazz, how come we can never achieve titles of royalty in these fields we are supposed to prevail in? They held a so called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the other night, where White judges credit people who resemble them with the invention of Rock and Roll. I didn’t even see Blacks in the audience.

There would be no Rock and Roll without Ike Turner, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, etc. Fake ghetto books and fake ghetto music. Elvis Presley, whom they idol, is merely a karaoke makeover of James Brown and Chuck Berry.

Ecopoetry, poetry and social change – making it happen

Poetry makes nothing happen? Might as well say poetry makes everything happen.

Neil Astley

“Poetry makes nothing happen” was never a slogan; our lazy literary culture has made a catch-all catchphrase out of four words in a subtle, discursive poem with a complex argument. 

George Szirtes gave this a sharper focus in his 2005 TS Eliot lecture, Thin Ice and the Midnight Skaters. Previewing his lecture in the Guardian, he wrote:

“‘If poetry makes nothing happen what use is it?’ scoffed a recent letter in a serious newspaper. It is not a new question, if a bit Gradgrindish in nature. What does music make happen? Or visual art? The writer might have been thinking of social change.”

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Poetry – Making Something Happen

Making Something Happen:
American Political Poetry between the World Wars

by Michael Thurston 

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” wrote W. H. Auden in 1939, expressing a belief that came to dominate American literary institutions in the late 1940s–the idea that good poetry cannot, and should not, be politically engaged. By contrast, Michael Thurston here looks back to the 1920s and 1930s to a generation of poets who wrote with the precise hope and the deep conviction that they would move their audiences to action. He offers an engaging new look at the political poetry of Edwin Rolfe, Langston Hughes, Ezra Pound, and Muriel Rukeyser.

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George Orwell, Doublethink, Iraq

Could We Split the Difference?

Dan Carpenter

Doublethink, as defined in George Orwell’s “1984,” is “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, while believing both of them.”

For example, the citizen-slaves of the novel’s Oceania were bombarded with the dual message that they were under constant threat of devastation from an implacable enemy while their own army was winning victory after glorious victory.

Real life in 2007 can be even more fanciful….

We’re assured that we’re winning in Iraq, and warned that it might well get worse….